Movie theater still king, but filmmakers slowly warm to online

Mon Sep 16, 2013 7:43am EDT
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By Julie Gordon

TORONTO (Reuters) - A few years ago, a successful run on the festival circuit might have propelled a small independent film into a limited art-house run and then onto the shelves of the local video store, where for the most part, it would be forgotten.

The rise of streaming and Video on Demand (VoD) is changing that model, allowing independent filmmakers to skip the studio distribution process and tap directly into new audiences on their computers, smartphones and television sets.

But while direct distribution has taken off in a big way with television programs like "House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black" from Netflix Inc, many feature filmmakers are still hesitant to give up the cinematic experience.

"That's not ideal for me," said director Ned Benson, when asked how he would feel if his first feature-length film, "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her," skipped the theater and went straight to VoD.

"When I was making this film it was more about the theatrical experience and giving people different ways to go (to the) theater and see movies."

Benson will get his wish. After premiering at the 38th annual Toronto International Film Festival last week, his film was acquired by The Weinstein Company, ensuring its release in theaters across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and France.

That desire to reach a theatrical audience was echoed by filmmakers interviewed at the Toronto festival, which wrapped up on Sunday. They see direct distribution as the future, but they worry about how it will impact the viewing experience.

"In an ideal world, you know that people are committed to watching something right through to the end," said director Atom Egoyan, who premiered his film "Devil's Knot" at the festival.   Continued...

Director Atom Egoyan poses for a portrait during the 38th Toronto International Film Festival September 9, 2013. REUTERS/Jon Blacker